John Allen: Waterford have motivation to topple Tipperary
Unfamiliar ground of Limerick will not take from process of Munster final occasion
Tipperary and Waterford fans on their way to Semple Stadium for last year’s Munster hurling final. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho.
There’s no doubt but that, for any hurler, playing in a Munster hurling final is only eclipsed by playing in an All-Ireland. Such is the tradition and history of the many, many great finals that any player worth his salt would like his CV to include having played in a Munster final, better again if he was on the winning team.
In my lifetime the stories of the heroics of Ring and then the Cork ’66 team introduced me to the world of the Munster final and of course Micheál Ó Hehir described the unfolding drama from such far flung places as Thurles and Limerick.
“Bail ó Dhia oraibh” was his usual greeting and off he went and off we went imagining the scene, the colour, the tension and the heroes that were going to battle in the red and white, the blue and gold or the green and white.
I’ve been fortunate enough to experience Munster final day from many different vantage points. Nothing beats the first time, though, when it’s new and you’re new and the unknown heightens the experience. Back in the 1970s the Cork hurlers came back up from the Park every training night to tuck into a steak dinner with all the trimmings, which of course included chips. Then the postman delivered, on Thursday or Friday before the big day, that all important letter with the GAA logo and Coiste Chontae Chorcaí on the top left on the envelope. The good news of inclusion on the match-day panel was contained within, as well as the travelling instructions and a motivational paragraph.
Some of the local press turned up at training early in the week and did the necessary with the star players and that was that.
There’s often reference made nowadays to the players being in a bubble before big games, which is an accurate enough description given that they are not part of the supporters’ build-up and are encouraged to stay as far away as possible from public interaction. There is always much that is exciting about match day even though the players’ heightened match day game focus tends to ensure that most of the occasion is only experienced by the followers.
On the morning of the game there is always a great sense of power and importance sitting in the hotel-bound bus with garda sirens blaring, gliding past the slow moving carnival of cars. Jealous drivers and excited flag wavers usually acknowledged the passing heroes.
There was always a sense of the calm before the storm as the pre-match meal began. Some players ate then walked, stretched or pucked sliotars around. Others chatted and joked before beginning part one of the day’s ritual. The team’s jokers are a very necessary part of every panel but eventually they are sucked into the vortex of serious.
Then when it’s time to leave the sanctuary of the hotel to head to the battlefield the tension is usually palpable.
The garda outriders lead the way. As the stadium comes into view so do the colours and the crowds. It’s usually an hour before action when most teams aim to arrive at the venue. As the bus comes to a stop and the players alight the mantra now is no eye contact with the usually surprised match goers who find themselves up close with their heroes. The players make their way from the bus, through the crowds, in the gate, across the area under the stand and into the sanctuary of the dressing room.
Some players head onto the field to see the end of the first game, walk on the hallowed sod or just to savour the atmosphere. The bundle of match programmes is distributed. Some flick through those. There are frequent toilet visits.
Soon it’s time to hand out the sacred jerseys. The last geeing up is done. There’s a bit of shouting. From the manager’s point of view the timing is all important as the teams have to enter onto the field at exactly the designated time so his few words have to be almost perfectly timed.
The warm up begins and soon the great drama unfolds. But really final day is destination day of a journey that began many years before. The various parents and club mentors who have contributed to the players good, dedicated and lucky enough to play today deserve as much recognition as the county mentors who often are subject of too much praise (and criticism).
On Sunday, as always, for the players it’s about being cool and focused enough to deliver a performance which they’ve spent a lifetime evolving and developing.
Waterford are psychologically in a stronger position than last year. Tipperary possess the squad to be rated as potential candidates to wear Kilkenny’s crown this year. Both teams have impressed in different ways this season. Tipperary are weakened by the absence of John O’Dwyer. Waterford might have more motivation to win this one.